IT infrastructure consists of a set of physical devices and software applications that are required to operate the entire enterprise. But IT infrastructure is also a set of firmwide services budgeted by management and comprising both human and technical capabilities.
Fig. Connection Between The Firm, IT Infrastructure, and Business Capabilities
Evolution of IT Infrastructure
The IT infrastructure in organizations today is an outgrowth of over 50 years of evolution in computing platforms. There have been five stages in this evolution, each representing a different configuration of computing power and infrastructure elements. The five eras are general-purpose mainframe and minicomputer computing, and cloud and mobile computing.
General-Purpose Mainframe and Minicomputer Era: (1959 to Present)
The introduction of the IBM 1401 and 7090 transistorized machines in 1959 marked the beginning of widespread commercial use of mainframe computer. The mainframe era was a period of highly centralized computing under the control of professional programmers and systems operators (usually in a corporate data center), with most elements of infrastructure provided by a single vendor, the manufacturer of the hardware and the software. This pattern began to change with the introduction of minicomputers produced by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1965. In recent years, the minicomputer has evolved into a midrange computer or midrange server and is part of a network.
Personal Computer Era: (1981 to Present)
The appearance of the IBM PC in 1981 is usually considered the beginning of the PC era because this machine was the first to be widely adopted by American businesses. The Wintel PC computer (Windows operating system software on a computer with an Intel microprocessor) became the standard desktop personal computer. Today, 95 percent of the world’s estimated 1.5 billion computers use the Wintel standard.
Client/Server Era: (1982 to Present)
In client/server computing, desktop or laptop computers called clients are networked by powerful server computers that provide the client computers with a variety of services and capabilities. Simple client/server networks can be found in small businesses, most corporations have more complex, multitiered (often called N-tier) client/server architectures in which the work of the entire network is balanced over several different levels of servers, depending on the kind of service being requested.
At first level, a Web server will serve a Web page to a client in response to a request for service. Application server software handles all application operations between a user and an organization’s back-end business systems. Novell NetWare was the leading technology for client/server networking at the beginning of the client/server era. Today, Microsoft is the market leader with its Windows operating systems.
Enterprise Computing Era: (1992 to Present)
In the early 1990s, firms turned to networking standards and software tools that could integrate disparate networks and applications throughout the firm into an enterprise-wide infrastructure. The enterprise infrastructure also requires software to link disparate applications and enable data to flow freely among different parts of the business, such as enterprise applications.
Cloud and Mobile Computing Era: (2000 to Present)
The growing bandwidth power of the Internet has pushed the client/server model one step further, towards what is called the “Cloud Computing Model,” refers to a model of computing that provides access to a shared pool of computing resources over a network, often the Internet.
Technology Drivers of Infrastructure Evolution
Moore’s Law and Microprocessing Power
The first microprocessor chip was introduced in 1959, the number of components on a chip with the smallest manufacturing costs per component (generally transistors) had doubled each year. This assertion became the foundation of Moore’s Law. This law would later be interpreted in multiple ways. There are at least three variations of Moore’s Law, none of which Moore ever stated: (1) the power of microprocessors doubles every 18 months (2) computing power doubles every 18 months; and (3) the price of computing falls by half every 18 months.
Fig. Moore’s Law and Microprocessor Performance
Nanotechnology uses individual atoms and molecules to create computer chips and other devices that are thousands of times smaller than current technologies permit.
Fig. Examples of Nanotubes
The Law of Mass Digital Storage
A second technology driver of IT infrastructure change is the Law of Mass Digital Storage. The world produces as much as 5 exabytes of unique information per year. The amount of digital information is roughly doubling every year. Fortunately, the cost of storing digital information is falling at an exponential rate of 100 percent a year.
Fig. Falling Cost of Chips
Metcalfe’s Law and Network Economics
Robert Metcalfe – inventor of Ethernet local area network technology – claimed in 1970 that the value or power of a network grows exponentially as a function of the number of network members. Demand for information technology has been driven by the social and business value of digital networks, which rapidly multiply the number of actual and potential links among network members.
Declining Communications Costs and the Internet
A fourth technology driver transforming IT infrastructure is the rapid decline in the costs of communication and the exponential growth in the size of Internet. As communication costs fall toward a very small number and approach 0, utilization of communication and computing facilities explodes.
Operating System Platforms
At the client level, 90 percent of PCs use some form of Microsoft Windows operating system to manage the resources and activities of the computer. Google’s Chrome OS provides a lightweight operating system for cloud computing using netbooks. Android is a mobile operating system developed by Android, Inc. and later the Open Handset Alliance as a flexible, upgradeable mobile device platform. Multitouch interface, where users use their fingers to manipulate objects on the screen.
Enterprise Software Applications
The largest providers of enterprise application software are SAP and Oracle (which acquired PeopleSoft). Microsoft is attempting to move into the lower ends of this market by focusing on small and medium-sized businesses that have not yet implemented enterprise applications.
Data Management and Storage
Enterprise database management software is responsible for organizing and managing the firm’s data so that they can be efficiently accessed and used. The leading database software providers are IBM (DB2), Oracle, Microsoft (SQL server), and Sybase (Adaptive Server Enterprise), which supply more than 90 percent of the U.S. database software marketplace. Storage area networks (SANS) connect multiple storage devices on a separate high-speed network dedicated to storage.
Contemporary Hardware Platform Trends
The exploding power of computer hardware and networking technology has dramatically changed how businesses organize their computing power, putting more of this power on networks and mobile handheld devices.
The Emerging Mobile Digital Platform
Cell phones and smartphones such as the BlackBerry and iPhone have taken on many functions of handheld computers, including transmission of data, surfing the Web, transmitting email and instant messages, displaying digital content and exchanging data with internal corporate systems. The new mobile platform also includes small low-cost lightweight subnotebooks called netbooks optimized for wireless communication and Internet access, with core computing functions such as word processing; tablet computers such as the iPad; and digital e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle with some Web access capabilities.
Grid computing involves connecting geographically remote computers into a single network to create a virtual supercomputer by combining the computational power of all computers on the grid. Grid computing requires software programs to control and allocate resources on the grid.
Virtualization is the process of presenting a set of computing resources (such as computing power or data storage) so that they can all be accessed in ways that are not restricted by physical configuration or geographic location.
Business Benefits of Virtualization
By providing the ability to host multiple systems on a single physical machine, virtualization helps organizations increase equipment utilization rates, conserving data center space and energy usage. Most servers run at just 15-20 percent of capacity, and virtualization can boost server utilization rates to 70 percent or higher. Higher utilization rates translate into fewer computers required to process the same amount of work.
Cloud computing is which firms and individuals obtain computer processing, storage, software, and other services as a pool of virtualized resources over a network, primarily the Internet. These resources are made available to users, based on their needs, irrespective of their physical location or the location of the users themselves. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as having the following essential characteristics
- On-demand self-service – individual can obtain computing capabilities such as server time or network storage on their own.
- Ubiquitous network access – individuals can use standard network and Internet devices, including mobile platforms, to access cloud resources.
- Location independent resource pooling – Computing resources are pooled to serve multiple users, with different virtual resources dynamically assigned according to user demand. The user generally does not know where the computing resources are located.
- Rapid elasticity – computing resources can be rapidly provisioned, increased, or decreased to meet changing user demand.
- Measured service – charges for cloud resources are based on amount of resources actually used.
Green computing or green IT refers to practices and technologies for designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated devices such as monitors, printers, storage devices and networking and communications systems to minimize impact on the environment.
Autonomic computing is an industry-wide effort to develop systems that can configure themselves, optimize and tune themselves, heal themselves when broken, and protect themselves from outside intruders and self-destruction.
Contemporary Software Platform Trends
Linux and Open Source Software
Open source software is software produced by a community of several hundred thousand programmer around the world. It is by definition not restricted to any specific system or hardware technology, although most open source software is currently based on a Linux or Unix operating system.
Perhaps the most well known open source software is Linux, an operating system related to Unix. The rise of open source software, particularly Linux and the applications it supports, has profound implications for corporate software platforms: cost reduction, reliability and resilience, and integration, because Linux works on all the major hardware platforms from mainframes to servers to clients.
Software for the Web: Java and Ajax
Web Services and Service-Oriented Architecture
Web services refer to a set of loosely coupled software components that exchange information with each other using universal Web communication standards and languages. The foundation technology for Web services is XML (Extensible Markup Language), developed in 1996 by the World Wide Web Consortium as a more powerful and flexible markeup language than hyper text marke up language (HTML) for Web pages. HTML is a page description language for specifying how text, graphics, video, and sound are placed on a Web page document. A service oriented architecture (SOA) is set of self-contained services that communicate with each other to create a working software application.
Dealing with Platform and Infrastructure Change
As firms grow, they often quickly outgrow their infrastructure. As firms shrink, they can get stuck with excessive infrastructure purchased in better times. It is up to business management to determine acceptable levels of computer response time and availability for the firm’s mission-critical systems to maintain the level of business performance they expect.
Management and Governance
A long-standing issue among information system managers and CEOs has been the question of who will control and manage the firm’s IT infrastructure. Each organization will need to arrive at answer based on its own needs.
Making Wise Infrastructure Investments
IT infrastructure is a major investment for the firm. If too much is spent on infrastructure, it lies and constitutes a drag on firm financial performance. If too little is spent, important business services cannot be delivered and the firm’s competitors will outperform the under-investing firm. Cloud computing may be a low-cost way to increase scalability and flexibility, but firms should evaluate this option carefully in light of security requirements and impact on business processes and work flows.
Competitive Forces Model for IT Infrastructure Investment
Market demand for your firm’s services – make an inventory of the services you currently provide to customers, suppliers, and employees.
Your firm’s business strategy – analyze your firm’s five-year business strategy and try to assess what new services and capabilities will be required to achieve strategic goals.
Your firm’s IT strategy, infrastructure, and cost – Examine your firm’s information technology plans for the next five years and assess its alignment with the firm’s business plans.
Information technology assessment – is your firm behind the technology curve or at the bleeding edge of information technology? Both situations are to be avoided.
Competitor firm services – try to assess what technology services competitors’ offer to customers, suppliers, and employees.
Competitor firm IT infrastructure investments – benchmark your expenditures for IT infrastructure against your competitors. Many companies are quite public about their innovative expenditures on IT.